Artificial Intelligence and Foreign Policy
The plot-lines of the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are debated and contested. But it is safe to predict that it will become one of the central technologies of the 21st century. It is fashionable these days to speak about data as the new oil. But if we want to “refine” the vast quantities of data we are collecting today and make sense of it, we will need potent AI. The consequences of the AI revolution could not be more far reaching. Value chains will be turned upside down, labor markets will get disrupted and economic power will shift to those who control this new technology. And as AI is deeply embedded in the connectivity of the Internet, the challenge of AI is global in nature. Therefore it is striking that AI is almost absent from the foreign policy agenda.
This paper seeks to provide a foundation for planning a foreign policy strategy that responds effectively to the emerging power of AI in international affairs. The developments in AI are so dynamic and the implications so wide-ranging that ministries need to begin engaging immediately. That means starting with the assets and resources at hand while planning for more significant changes in the future. Many of the tools of traditional diplomacy can be adapted to this new field. While the existing toolkit can get us started, this pragmatic approach does not preclude thinking about more drastic changes that the technological changes might require for our foreign policy institutions and instruments.
The paper approaches this challenge, drawing on the existing foreign policy toolbox and reflecting on the past lessons of adapting this toolbox to the Internet revolution. The paper goes on to make suggestions on how the tools could be applied to the international challenges that the AI revolution will bring about. The toolbox includes policy making, public diplomacy, bilateral and multilateral engagement, actions through international and treaty organizations, convenings and partnerships, grant-making and information-gathering and analysis. The analysis of the international challenges of the AI transformation are divided into three topical areas. Each of the three sections includes concrete suggestions how instruments from the tool box could be applied to address the challenges AI will bring about in international affairs.
Economic Disruption and Opportunity
The driver of AI technology development is primarily economic. AI has the potential to reshuffle winners and losers in global markets. Without question, positioning for domestic economic interests in global AI markets as well as an AI-inspired development program will be important objectives for foreign policy leaders. However, we see the major strategic priorities for economic policy planners within foreign ministries as focused elsewhere. Because market forces are likely to move faster than policy-making, the focal points for foreign ministries are more likely to be rooted in risk management on two major issues: 1) concentration of economic power; and 2) labor market disruption. Foreign ministries should re-tool their observation and reporting tasks to include careful monitoring of developments in AI technologies and markets. This data might be factored into risk assessments with respect to regional instability, migration, and trade. A second area of activity will be initiating international dialogue with like-minded partners to prepare the groundwork for collective action around common interests, for example on regulatory policy with respect to AI.
Security and Autonomous Weapons Systems
Among the many ways that AI might transform our societies, none have the urgency carried by the prospect of autonomous weapons. Once the stuff of science fiction, a future featuring robotic killing machines and algorithms empowered to deliver lethal force is closing fast. The top priority in this area is updating arms control and non-proliferation strategies to deal with an escalating AI arms race. In particular, this means aligning major powers around common policies (such as limitations on offensive capabilities) and working together in the common interest of guarding against these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. This work should be accompanied by significant public diplomacy to establish moral red lines and convene influential stakeholders across sectors to contain the threat of AI weapons. In addition, there is much work to be done evaluating the potential threats of AI in hard power as well as in disinformation campaigns. There is too little understanding in our ministries about how these technologies work, which players in which markets offer weaponized AI as a product, and how we might be able to push back against them.
Democracy and Ethics
The job of foreign ministries in most liberal democracies includes two straightforward and related tasks that reflect the values of open societies. The first is to promote and strengthen democratic institutions that protect social equality and representation around the world. The second is to pursue a (human and civil) rights-based system of governance, commerce, and security in the international community. The diplomatic and development agenda surrounding the Internet has demonstrated for years the tensions between security and freedom implicit in ever more connected societies. AI will heighten this tension by supercharging surveillance and censorship capabilities. Even as these technologies enable new opportunities for free expression, civic activity, and social progress, they also raise the unwelcome possibility of deepening existing social discrimination. The challenge for foreign policy will be to promote a positive agenda in the face of these risks – leveraging grant-making, communications, and multi-lateral policy engagement to pursue rights-based goals. In their own practice, ministries that embrace data-driven AI tools for development aid projects (a likely, and potentially fruitful, prospect for the medium term) should keep the problem of bias front of mind.
Grand theory about technology-driven change at the global level must be instrumented through institutions. And we recognize that these institutions operate under constraints – political, budgetary, bureaucratic, and human resources. Consequently, we opted to present a pragmatic proposal for the foreign policy of AI that leverages the existing tools of diplomacy while working towards more systemic adaptation in the future.